printing creates softened raw materials, such as ceramic, plastic and metal, and
then uses fine-dose nozzles, similar to an ink-jet printer, to make a three-dimensional
object, layer by layer. A method of hardening the material (for example, by
cooling it) is necessary. Moulds or similar tools are not needed. The whole
process is computer-controlled and requires a three-dimensional template to be
stored in the computer. As a result, the product can only be as precise as the
template used to make it.
European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel (STOA)
has taken a close look at the impact the use of 3D printers in production would
have, for example, on producing human body parts as ‘spare parts’. The study is
available on the European Parliament’s website.
How does 3D bio-printing work?
the early 2000s, 3D printers have been used to make dentures. In its narrowest
sense, 3D bio-printing mainly uses organic material to make body parts such as
bones and organs. Ideally, the patient’s own cells are used in order to help
prevent the body from rejecting foreign bodies. Another advantage is that
customised components can be produced for patients, virtually next to the
operating table. However, this also increases the cost of treatment.
Access to treatment for all?
the possibility of inequalities in healthcare, the question arises as to
whether access to the benefits offered by 3D bio-printers will be open to all
citizens, even if they do not have the necessary financial resources.
Technological advancements have not yet changed the mandate of the German
Social Code, according to which the social insurance institutions in Germany
must bear the costs of sufficient, financially-viable and appropriate
the possibilities of 3D bio-printing are still limited – more science-fiction
than reality. However, many experts agree that stakeholders in the field of
healthcare should already be dealing with the realities of not only tomorrow but
also the day after tomorrow.